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Jeff Kolpack, Published May 29 2013

Kolpack: Questions linger about long-faded Bison star who died Monday

FARGO - The book closed on Paul Hatchett this week, but many of its pages were still blank.

One of the greatest players in the storied history of North Dakota State University football died Monday in relative obscurity in Savannah, Ga., leaving behind a life of homelessness and numerous problems with the law.

He was 64.

Hatchett died of natural causes, according to Julian Miller, the public affairs administrator for the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department, and there are no further public records.

None of the funeral homes in the Savannah area have a listing for him.

He just sort of disappeared.

But in a way, he’d been gone for a long time.

“Paul had regrets and kind of voiced his opinion once if things would have went a different way,” said Gregory Washington.

Washington still lives in Minneapolis and was perhaps the only childhood friend who got in touch with Hatchett in recent years. They last spoke about a year ago.

“He was in good spirits, although he had some health issues,” Washington said. “He didn’t get into any of his crimes, and I didn’t want to ask him about it.”

It was a long time ago when the star running back left NDSU almost immediately after his last game in 1969 – never to be heard from again. A Forum search in 2006 revealed a laundry list of infractions that were mostly drug related and mostly in southern Georgia or northwest Florida.

At the time, even his sister, his only sibling, hadn’t spoken with Hatchett in 10 years.

We got close. A call to Union Mission Inc., a homeless shelter in Savannah that works with support programs to get people off the street and into productivity, was two years too late. The Forum even hired a private investigator in Savannah to visit a couple of his known residences, but who knows if the guy just took his $200 and drove around the block a couple of times.

We’ll never get to speak to Hatchett about his All-American NDSU football career. Those who want NDSU’s two national titles in 1968 and 1969 to remain untainted are probably OK with that.

We’ll never get to ask whether, or how, he was helped in any way, shape or form to remain eligible.

Records obtained by The Forum indicate Hatchett was a suspect his senior year at NDSU in two burglaries: a television theft from a local hotel and a stolen 1964 Chevrolet automobile from the parking lot of a local bakery.

A series of police reports ensued with the intent of having the suspect come down to the Fargo police station and have his fingerprints taken to see if they matched a print obtained from inside the stolen vehicle. The last report, dated Oct. 30, 1969, said the dean of NDSU called the station and said Hatchett is willing to have his prints taken and “will possibly be down in the a.m. if it does not interfere with his football practice.”

Well, now, we wouldn’t want to interfere with football practice.

Ironically, I pulled out my large file of Hatchett recently and was contemplating another search. The number of arrests between 1989 and 1997 numbered 41, although his only jail time was two years in the Wilcox State Prison in Abbeville, Ga. He was released in 2001.

“He had a pretty destructive path as an adult,” Washington said. “Overall, he was a pretty nice guy.”

There are those who believe Hatchett’s nice side was close to steering him down a lawful path in the late ’60s and early ’70s. His mother, Margaret, in a questionnaire that was on file at NDSU, wrote after the 1968 season that the reason Paul picked NDSU was because “it is a great little school and he loves it.”

He was president of a Red Cross club in high school at Minneapolis Central. He worked with underprivileged kids at a community center in Minneapolis, according to a document from the NDSU sports information office.

“He was really fond of kids,” Washington said. “He even took my son to the circus.”

Washington said he worked out with Hatchett in the summer months of his college career. He painted a picture of an athlete who worked to exhaustion.

“He was the kind of guy who wouldn’t brag,” he said.

An NDSU athletics news release in 1969 nominating him for Little All America started with “They call him ‘The Game Breaker’ and ‘The Ground Gainer’ and they call him ‘P.J.’ But mostly they refer to him simply as ‘The Hatchett Man.’ ”

The Hatchett Man is no longer running, either with a football or from anybody.

So many questions.

So few answers.

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Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia